Not far from the border with Mozambique, and the Kingdom of Swaziland, is the newly named Eastern Transvaal, MPUMALANGA 'Land of the Rising sun, in local SiSwele language, in the sub tropical LOWVELT, rich with wild animals, birds, trees, flowers and indiginous peoples. They speak English, Africaans, isiNdebele, Siswati and Xitsonga. The Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport is about 14 miles away. Also the home of THE most improbable and politically incorrect soccer team name in world sport, THE DANGEROUS DARKIES !!
I took a small minibus with about 8 passengers up to the capital, NELSPRUIT,on the Crocodile River, and sat next to Brigitte, a French citizen brought up on the Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius, and married to a South African farmer up in Mpumalanga and they produce sugar cane, mangoes, grapefruit, lemons and other citrus fruit, much of which is exported. She felt that crime was the biggest problem to the new South Africa, and this view was mirrored by all who I met. Its unsafe in lots of places in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia etc, but only in South Africa do they shoot to kill, not just rob you.
Anyway, we parted ways in Nelspruit, the provincial capital, which had suffered from flash floods the day before, and the river was choked with palm fronds. I visited the well appointed tourist office which has a great variety of brochures on attractions and places to stay. Its in the LOWVELD area, about 3,000 feet lower down than the HIGHVELT where Johannesburg and Pretoria sit. Its now mid summer but wasn't very hot, and I want to remind potential World Cup visitors that the tournament will be played in the South African winter, the dry season. Nelspruit is a fast growing city with canneries, paper mills, furniture factories and the tourist industry. It also boasts a casino and Botanical gardens.and there is lots of development on the N4 corridor linking it with Maputo, the Mozambique capital about 3 hours away on the coast, and stable after years of unrest.
My host for the next few days, Leslie Blandy took me to the the building site just out of town and a couple of hundred yards off the Pretoria highway.where the new 2010 stadium, Mbombela Stadium site sprouts half a dozen very tall cranes and a hive of activity. The still dirt track is lined with old gum and bouganvilla trees.(These are my favourite trees and come in many coloured flowers). Many of the hundreds of workers were female. who evidently are very hard workers and take their wages home to feed their families, whereas many of the men will spend it in the shebeens as soon as they are paid. The security fence surrounding the site was covered with AIDS signs, since this Saturday is World Aids Day and its a gigantic and tragic problem here with lots of orphaned children. The Mbombela Stadium which means Many people in a small space,will have about 46.000 seats and now they workers have gone back to work after a strike over safety conditions and bonuses, should be completed in 2009.
I passed a Formula 1, a Mercure. and a Proteas hotel, hardly enough to house maybe 10,000 visiting Dutch, German or French fans. There are many lodges and bed & breakfasts for the tourists but most house maybe a dozen or 20 people.About $30 US a person with breakfast in the lodges while Formula 1was charging about $35.00 for 1,2, or 3 persons, at least pre-world cup!! There is very little bus transport to the big cities and the trains are freight orientated and very slow. Mozambique announced this week that they were building a new rail link to South Africa, but that takes a while. I imagine they will need hundreds of luxury tour buses to bring foreign fans the 4 hour drive from Gauteng-Pretoria and Johannesburg, and return them after each match. Many will rent cars in Gauteng but its very dangerous, and after a few drinks and walking around looking for action pre and post gmatch will surely bring out the robbers and killers.
I was told the tale of the prominant citizen living in the game reserves recently who was entertaining corporate guests, and he was shot and killed in front of them for his car, without even being given the chance to hand over the keys. Less than a quarter of an hour later the robber confronted another car owner who happened to be armed and shot first and the robber was killed.